January 26, 2021
BOGOTÁ — Universal history always begins at some forgotten point on earth. In a village, perhaps, one that was crossed hundreds or thousands of years ago by the first camels bearing silk from faraway lands. Or in other dot on the map, a place where real flesh-and-blood people live through Shakespearean dramas even though they'll never see any of the Bard's tragedies.
Local histories are the seeds of the universal ones. On happy occasions, the world may come to read some of them, like the lives of Dostoevsky's Karamazov brothers and their relations with their father, or the changing fortunes of a family, cousins and all, in World War II. Natalia Ginzberg did just that, depicting people's travails in parts of Italy under fascism in the 1930s and the subsequent world war.
These days, in this period of capitalist despotism and globalization, local cultures may be trampled on, despised, or even disappear from view. What do we know of dancing rituals in Papua New Guinea, or of the fate of the vaDoma, the people in Zimbabwe with missing toes? The rule today is for a universal dumbing down. That, along with dominance by one culture.
What do we know of the "terrible redeemer don Jerónimo Rubio" in Mexico, known in his time as the Black Hand? Not a week passed without his hanging someone in a village. Or of the blacks who spoke wakamba in Ernest Hemingway's Short and Happy Life of Francis Macomber? Perhaps nothing. And who cares, you may ask?
And what about the Cristero, the 1920s Catholic rebellion in Mexico? In that case, we remember a bit more, thanks to novels like Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. And that's a good thing, because local history matters. In fact, safeguarding these historical memories is crucial in these times of popular anxieties and power excesses, because so often these stories are downplayed, if not ignored or buried to allow a single, official version to prevail.
The book San José de Gracia: Mexican Village in Transition, by Luis González, is the story of a small pueblo in the eastern state of Michoacán. Its problems, we read, "never go beyond the horizon," yet they are the problems of an entire country, in this case Mexico.
Local histories are the seeds of the universal ones.
Local life, furthermore, isn't just the primary source of literature and history. It's a binding element of national cultures. Local histories are a weapon against oblivion or indifference, as José Saramago suggested. From a single window, one can view the universe. The poet Emily Dickinson did. The novelist Franz Kafka would also agree.
"You don't need to leave the house," Kafka observed. "Stay at your desk and listen. Don't even listen, just wait, nor even that. Just remain absolutely quiet and alone. The world will appear so you can unmask it. It cannot help itself. And it will bend before your gaze."
What the horse has seen in Azinhaga, hometown of Portuguese novelist José Saramago — Photo: Vitor Oliveira
The protection and promotion of local histories is essential in a country like Colombia, rich in regional cultures. This is to avoid the single, hegemonic vision that mirrors wealth and power; to serve as a counter balance to the "correct" opinions that some ex-presidents tout to perpetuate their spell over the country. Local history provides infinite possibilities for recognizing the hidden situations that are the stuff of magic realism or the Thousand and One Nights.
There should be a history center in every village and district: an organization, independent of authorities, in charge of researching and rescuing memory. It should record myriad tales and anecdotes on schools, rituals and beliefs, the shenanigans of notables, festivals and more. This is the micro-history that conveys imaginations and rescues symbols, builds identities and forges territorial attachment.
In a time of neocolonial globalization, this would be a beautiful way of relating the universal history hidden in every locality, and saying, "Give me a village, and I'll tell you about the world."
The oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador was founded in 1887. The national daily newspaper has historically taken a firm stance against drug trafficking and in defense of freedom of the press. In 1986, the director of El Espectador was assassinated by gunmen hired by Pablo Escobar. The majority share-holder of the paper is Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a Colombian businessman named by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest men in the world in 2011.
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Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?
October 16, 2021
BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.
The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.
This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.
Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.
"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.
Can you trust environmental officials?
For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.
This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.
It could have sunk because of the rain.
After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.
The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.
"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.
"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.
Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water
A questionable claim
That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.
"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.
He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."
Living in pollution
The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.
"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.
He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.
The mining work should have been stopped long ago
Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.
The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.
In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.
The mine has affected the landscape around the villages
Resisting lignite mining
The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.
The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.
They were dependent on others' land for work.
Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.
In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.
The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.
"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.
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